A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) research cruise completed a deep sea study earlier this month, and scientists on board found significant damage to coral systems 7 miles from the site of the Deepwater Horizon rig that exploded in April. The Ronald H. Brown's remote-operated vehicles (ROV) discovered a dead and dying coral system 4,600 feet deep and covered in a "brown substance." NOAA estimates 90 percent of the 40 corals were affected, and another coral site 1,400 feet from that coral was in similar shape.
"These observations capture our concern for impacts to marine life in places in the Gulf that are not easily seen," NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco said in a statement. "Continued, ongoing research and monitoring involving academic and government scientists are essential for comprehensive understanding of impacts to the Gulf."
In May, Environmental Defense Fund chief oceans scientist Doug Rader warned Gambit that an oil-dispersant mix potentially could devastate the deep sea's thousands-years-old coral systems — home to diverse ecosystems — if the oil-dispersant mix infiltrated the water columns. NOAA officials and scientists collected samples to determine if the oil and dispersant caused the coral deaths.
Last week, 202 days after the BP oil disaster began, responders completed the plugging and "abandoning" of the now-capped well. Federal on-scene coordinator Adm. Paul Zukunft says 12 vessels are still at the site and waiting to be brought to shore for decontamination. The cap is marked with an 11-point star to honor the 11 lives lost on the rig. — Alex Woodward